Evangelical arians?

Ligonier Ministries does a "State of Theology" survey in the USA every two years. Their most recent findings are fascinating. Especially the results on Statement 6: Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. 73% of Evangelicals agree strongly with that statement, and another 5% agree.

Which means nearly 4 out of 5 Evangelicals in the USA are in fact Arians. Ten years ago, it was just a shade under 3 out of 4. So, over time, Evangelicals seem to be becoming more Arian.

Is it the same in the UK?

And what are the implications of that finding? Why would such a substantial majority of Evangelicals embrace a heresy that has been condemned by the Church from the very beginning? I mean, the very first Ecumenical Council was called because of the Arian heresy. And Arianism was soundly rejected.
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Comments

  • This is what happens when people take a dislike to words such as "begotten" - it has got to the stage now where, although they are trying to be "Bible-based," they simply don't know any better.

    Why did the author ask the question in such an ambiguous way? If someone answered "No", would that mean they didn't believe Jesus was the greatest? I think all he really wanted to suggest was "Jesus is the first and greatest being to ever walk upon the earth." It was interesting that the word "first" was used.

    Having said that, I have often heard it suggested that Jesus Christ was "begotten" at His Baptism (within evangelical circles.)
  • Because of the voice saying "This day have I begotten thee".
  • If you click in the upper right corner of the page you link to, you'll find a pull-down menu which lets you switch from the US to the UK results; then if you click on the "Data Explorer" link you can see the detailed results.

    After some experimenting with the filters on the left hand side (choosing the "Practicing Christians" data set and then the Evangelical checkbox under "Faith") it appears that 67% of UK Evangelicals agree strongly with Statement 6, and another 5% agree somewhat.

    I suspect the implication (for both the US and the UK) is that people generally don't particularly know or care much at all about the details of Trinitarian doctrine, and don't recognize the statement as something designed to catch them in a heresy they've never heard of. They read "Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God" and think, "Well, sure, of course Jesus is the first and greatest! Go Jesus!"

    R. C. Sproul would probably have been gratified to know that at least UK Evangelicals largely agreed (22% somewhat and 43% strongly) that "Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation," unlike their dangerously lax US coreligionists (only 10% somewhat and 30% strongly, with 12% disagreeing somewhat and a scandalous 44%(!) disagreeing strongly.)
  • Mark Betts wrote: »
    Why did the author ask the question in such an ambiguous way? If someone answered "No", would that mean they didn't believe Jesus was the greatest? I think all he really wanted to suggest was "Jesus is the first and greatest being to ever walk upon the earth." It was interesting that the word "first" was used.

    Statement 6 doesn't say that Jesus was the first and greatest being to ever walk upon the earth. It says that he was the first and greatest being created by God.

    There is nothing ambiguous about that statement at all. It is the definition of Arianism. Arians believe that the Son was the first and most perfect being created by God. The word "first" was used because that's what Arians believed about the Son.

    Christians, of course, believe that the Son was not created. Not first, not last, not ever.
  • Mark BettsMark Betts Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    josephine wrote: »
    .....Christians, of course, believe that the Son was not created. Not first, not last, not ever.
    Meaning Orthodox and other orthodox Christians, I presume. I wouldn't say that someone who differs is "not a Christian," just a heterodox/heretical Christian.
  • The problem IMHO is that people read the statement, think "something smells wrong with that," think again "but if I say no, does that mean I'm saying Jesus is not the greatest?" and the gears in their heads go CRUNCH and they take a wild stab at it. Most people are not that great at realizing they ought to reject the whole statement when any part of it is wrong. Even I (suspicious creature that I am) have sometimes figured that tge survey makers didn't really mean to say precisely what they asked, and have adjusted my response accordingly.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    josephine wrote: »
    There is nothing ambiguous about that statement at all. It is the definition of Arianism. Arians believe that the Son was the first and most perfect being created by God. The word "first" was used because that's what Arians believed about the Son.

    Christians, of course, believe that the Son was not created. Not first, not last, not ever.

    Not disagreeing at all with your statements, but wondering if those being quizzed understood what was being put to them. A side question is to ask how often, if ever, they recited the Nicene Creed.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    That survey seems to be constructed by taking a bunch of caricatures of liberal positions, and then asking 'Do you agree with this?' It seems to be designed more for grinding the author's particular axes than for finding out what people actually believe.
  • I'm not an evangelical Christian, but I have hung around evangelical congregations, usually in pursuit of a woman (this was some years ago). The congregations I attended pay allot of attention to doctrine, and encourage their members to learn about Christian history. While they put their own slant on things, don't we all? They also encourage an intellectual curiosity about God and the Church that is lacking I think in the Catholic Church.

    There's lots of things I don't like about Evangelical Christianity, but I reckon the fair dinkum ones (as distinct from the TV evangelists and the Prosperity Gospel types) are also fair dinkum Christians.
  • I agree with @Ricardus and with @Dave W when he says
    people generally don't particularly know or care much at all about the details of Trinitarian doctrine, and don't recognize the statement as something designed to catch them in a heresy they've never heard of.
    The first place I saw this survey was on a "sound" evangelical church website and was designed to elicit cries of "oh the horror, the horror" rather than make some sociological point.

    If there is a point to be made it's that evangelicals are not very theologically astute, and perhaps getting less so on average, but I think that's probably true across most faith traditions.

    Lastly, the general consensus on the Ship has long appeared to be that there's a lot more to being an authentic Christian than theological correctness.
  • TBH I don’t think it particularly indicates that a high proportion of Evangelicals are Arians, more that they don’t read this type of questionnaire particularly carefully, or take it particularly seriously. Most have already mentally ticked ‘True’ after the first seven words, and don’t register the last three. It certainly points to a level of theological unawareness, but I’d be reluctant to call out heresy on the basis of the average lay person’s response to that.
  • Ricardus wrote: »
    That survey seems to be constructed by taking a bunch of caricatures of liberal positions, and then asking 'Do you agree with this?' It seems to be designed more for grinding the author's particular axes than for finding out what people actually believe.

    This. There's a link to the organization's site at the very bottom of that page, IIRC, in the copyright. I skimmed it earlier. Putting it together with the link in the OP, I think this guy Sproul (?) clearly wanted all his "fears"/theories confirmed. In this case, anyway, he seems like an angry piece of work.

    Re Nicene creed, mentioned by Gee D.

    Ummm...do Evangelicals ever use that? (Except maybe very low-church C of E folks, from what I've picked up on the Ship.)
  • Golden Key wrote: »
    Ummm...do Evangelicals ever use that?
    Yes.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    Wow. He's a cheerful bugger isn't he?

    Notwithstanding the OP issue, most of this is good old "I stand at the door and knock, let me in to let me save you from what I'm going to do to you if you don't" Kissing Hank's Arse theology.
  • Golden Key wrote: »
    Because of the voice saying "This day have I begotten thee".

    Which 99.9% of Protestants won't be aware of except from Psalm 2:7.
  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    I don't think it's just Evangelicals that don't think about the implications of statements they agree with. Time after time the Church of England (which is at least not entirely made up of Evangelicals, however it may feel to some of us) falls into all kinds of bear traps by being too nice to interrogate things that it's being asked to support.

    Also, the level of understanding about the divinity of Christ and its implications for one's view of God as a whole is pretty universally appalling, particularly outside the confines of this fine vessel. The notion that only the first person of the Trinity is really God seems to be reflected in so many statements made, even in the prayers and liturgies of allegedly Trinitarian churches.
  • I'll agree with anything after a few drinks.
  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    Simon Toad wrote: »
    I'll agree with anything after a few drinks.
    Yeah but I have my standards. I can do Modalism after three pints, Arianism takes me at least five.
  • What about Marcionism? I once came across a non-fiction book called "God Drives A Flying Saucer", back in the '70s. Premise was that the OT God was both a meanie and a space alien. Jesus, also a space alien, enacted a coup and took over. Hence a nicer version of God in the NT.

    During a previous Ship convo, someone informed me that qualifies as Marcionism.
  • Martin54 wrote: »
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Because of the voice saying "This day have I begotten thee".

    Which 99.9% of Protestants won't be aware of except from Psalm 2:7.

    Hmmm...IME, it would be exactly the reverse. The voice happened during Jesus' adult baptism by John the Baptist, and is a commonly-known part of J's story.
  • Eutychus wrote: »
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Ummm...do Evangelicals ever use that?
    Yes.

    But, presumably, mostly C of E Evangelicals, as I said? From what I've learned on the Ship, they're different from the American flavor.
  • josephine wrote: »
    Mark Betts wrote: »
    Why did the author ask the question in such an ambiguous way? If someone answered "No", would that mean they didn't believe Jesus was the greatest? I think all he really wanted to suggest was "Jesus is the first and greatest being to ever walk upon the earth." It was interesting that the word "first" was used.

    Statement 6 doesn't say that Jesus was the first and greatest being to ever walk upon the earth. It says that he was the first and greatest being created by God.

    There is nothing ambiguous about that statement at all. It is the definition of Arianism. Arians believe that the Son was the first and most perfect being created by God. The word "first" was used because that's what Arians believed about the Son.

    Christians, of course, believe that the Son was not created. Not first, not last, not ever.
    Hmmm. While I do share the concern about Arianism, I don’t know that I could say there’s nothing ambiguous about the question. The question posits that Jesus was the first and greatest creation of God. Well, Jesus was the eternal logos, but he was also a human, which by definition means a creature. Is there a difference when talking about Jesus and talking about the Second Person of the Trinity? Perhaps not, if one considers the Creed. But will the average person in the pews pick up on these niceties?

    And, of course, even if Jesus could be called a creature/creation in his human nature, he wasn’t the first. But somehow I can imagine a bit of Colossians banging around in some heads—“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Whether the bits that come after are remembered is anyone’s guess.

    If this were a question aimed at theologians or clergy, I might find the high percentage that said “yes” of more concern. But I’m not sure the average layperson is going to parse the question sufficiently to spot the lurking Arian, assuming they even know what Arianism is. As others have said, I suspect many saw “first and greatest” and said “well, sure.”

    My hunch is that this response reflects muddy thinking (or inadequate catechesis) and a poorly worded question more than it reflects affirmative Arianism. I’d feel more confident of the latter if the question had been squarely posed, along the lines of “Choose the answer that best reflects your understanding: Jesus was (a) the first and greatest being created by God, (b) the eternal son of God the Father, or (c) a great teacher and a great man.” Not that that’s great wording either, but you get the idea.

  • Golden Key wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Because of the voice saying "This day have I begotten thee".

    Which 99.9% of Protestants won't be aware of except from Psalm 2:7.

    Hmmm...IME, it would be exactly the reverse. The voice happened during Jesus' adult baptism by John the Baptist, and is a commonly-known part of J's story.

    Not by me or anyone I know. I know it's in some MSS, but it's in no bible I've ever read.
  • Golden Key wrote: »
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Ummm...do Evangelicals ever use that?
    Yes.

    But, presumably, mostly C of E Evangelicals, as I said? From what I've learned on the Ship, they're different from the American flavor.

    I know plenty of non C of E evangelicals this side of the pond who would be familiar with the Nicene Creed, and in my church, which describes itself as evangelical, we recite it from time to time. Your definition of evangelical is far too narrow even by US standards in my opinion.
  • Martin54 wrote: »
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Because of the voice saying "This day have I begotten thee".

    Which 99.9% of Protestants won't be aware of except from Psalm 2:7.

    Hmmm...IME, it would be exactly the reverse. The voice happened during Jesus' adult baptism by John the Baptist, and is a commonly-known part of J's story.

    Not by me or anyone I know. I know it's in some MSS, but it's in no bible I've ever read.
    It's not in the text of the NRSV, but note 30 at Luke 3:22 in the NRSV says "Other ancient authorities read You are my Son, today I have begotten you." I don't have any other translations handy.

  • I'm not aware of it in any of the translations I've used. On the face of it, it's exactly the sort of thing that would start out as a marginal gloss and accidentally get worked into the text itself by future copyists. Which is doubtless one reason why the majority of English translations appear not to use it there.
  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Because of the voice saying "This day have I begotten thee".

    Which 99.9% of Protestants won't be aware of except from Psalm 2:7.

    Hmmm...IME, it would be exactly the reverse. The voice happened during Jesus' adult baptism by John the Baptist, and is a commonly-known part of J's story.

    Not by me or anyone I know. I know it's in some MSS, but it's in no bible I've ever read.
    It's not in the text of the NRSV, but note 30 at Luke 3:22 in the NRSV says "Other ancient authorities read You are my Son, today I have begotten you." I don't have any other translations handy.

    Indeed Nick. Thanks. The Devil is in the details.
  • balaambalaam Shipmate
    edited December 18
    It was in some ancient manuscripts, Justin Martyr commented on the today... phrase in Luke. But noted that it was not to be interpreted in an adoptionist way.

    That would be another heresy altogether.
  • There are two clear references to Psalm 2.7 being applied to Jesus -- in Hebrews 5.5 and Acts 13.33. It not the same formula as "This is my beloved Son, listen to him/with whom I am well pleased." which is used at Jesus' baptism and transfiguration - though it easy to see how the different phrases could have become conflated.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    The problem IMHO is that people read the statement, think "something smells wrong with that," think again "but if I say no, does that mean I'm saying Jesus is not the greatest?" and the gears in their heads go CRUNCH and they take a wild stab at it. Most people are not that great at realizing they ought to reject the whole statement when any part of it is wrong. Even I (suspicious creature that I am) have sometimes figured that tge survey makers didn't really mean to say precisely what they asked, and have adjusted my response accordingly.

    This is probably it. And a lot of them likely don't even go through the "smell test" stage of initial suspicion. They just hear a statement that says Jesus was the greatest something or other, and all they really pick up is that the words "Jesus" and "greatest" have been conjoined, and think "Well, yeah, obviously he was."

    Granted, if it was a statement like "Jesus was the greatest pimp who ever lived", they might disagree, but "being created by God" is a hazy enough phrase to trip them up.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited December 18
    Yeeaah... There's no warrant for it but here a little there a little.
  • balaam wrote: »
    It was in some ancient manuscripts, Justin Martyr commented on the today... phrase in Luke. But noted that it was not to be interpreted in an adoptionist way.

    That would be another heresy altogether.

    There's three similar heresies possible here - Arianism, Semi-Arianism and Adoptionism. I don't think they are unrelated to each other.
  • stetson wrote: »
    The problem IMHO is that people read the statement, think "something smells wrong with that," think again "but if I say no, does that mean I'm saying Jesus is not the greatest?" and the gears in their heads go CRUNCH and they take a wild stab at it. Most people are not that great at realizing they ought to reject the whole statement when any part of it is wrong. Even I (suspicious creature that I am) have sometimes figured that tge survey makers didn't really mean to say precisely what they asked, and have adjusted my response accordingly.

    This is probably it. And a lot of them likely don't even go through the "smell test" stage of initial suspicion. They just hear a statement that says Jesus was the greatest something or other, and all they really pick up is that the words "Jesus" and "greatest" have been conjoined, and think "Well, yeah, obviously he was."

    Granted, if it was a statement like "Jesus was the greatest pimp who ever lived", they might disagree, but "being created by God" is a hazy enough phrase to trip them up.

    Could also mean many are heretics without even realising it.
  • So true.
  • One could indeed argue that the author of the survey is flirting with Docetism without realising it, in that as soon as you imply (as the first question does) that human sinfulness comes from our nature (as opposed to concupiscence or ancestral sin), then you imply that the human physis is sinful - which in turn suggests that Jesus did not possess a human physis, as he was without sin ...
  • Ricardus wrote: »
    One could indeed argue that the author of the survey is flirting with Docetism without realising it

    Indeed.
  • The survey by Ligonir is suspect. The questions are poorly worded and definitely has a biased slant. Then too, they seemed focused on Evangelicals which are only 1/3 of all Christians in the US, but they make it sound as if it is reflective of everyone who claims to be Christians.

    I too, had problems with the question about Jesus being the first created being. It too ambiguous.
  • Gramps49 wrote: »
    The survey by Ligonir is suspect. The questions are poorly worded and definitely has a biased slant. Then too, they seemed focused on Evangelicals which are only 1/3 of all Christians in the US, but they make it sound as if it is reflective of everyone who claims to be Christians.

    I too, had problems with the question about Jesus being the first created being. It too ambiguous.

    The right thing to do would have been for each person to reject the survey and refuse to fill it in. But I've no idea how you can make that happen.
  • To quibble with the semantics in Christology:

    God the Word is uncreated, equal to the Father, fully God.

    The human nature of Jesus is created, inferior to God, human as we are.

    The statement "Jesus is uncreated/created", is a tad difficult, because in the person of Jesus, the eternal Word of God took on created nature, and neither were the natures commingled, nor does one nature annihilate the other.

    What I'm writing is that statements such as "Jesus is uncreated" or "Jesus is created" oversimplify the mystery of the Incarnation.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    I too, had problems with the question about Jesus being the first created being. It too ambiguous.

    I don't see any ambiguity in it, though. The problem is that I'd be surprised if many of those completing the survey understood the heresy in the question. Indeed, I would not be surprised if that slipped past those compiling it. Many of the posts here confirm my suspicion that recital of the Nicene Creed is uncommon in fundamentalist circles.
  • Gee D wrote: »
    Gramps49 wrote: »
    I too, had problems with the question about Jesus being the first created being. It too ambiguous.

    I don't see any ambiguity in it, though. The problem is that I'd be surprised if many of those completing the survey understood the heresy in the question. Indeed, I would not be surprised if that slipped past those compiling it. Many of the posts here confirm my suspicion that recital of the Nicene Creed is uncommon in fundamentalist circles.

    Hell, they don't even recite the much shorter and less challenging Apostle's Creed.
  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    edited December 19
    Yes. It's the Son who is eternally begotten, not Jesus.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    I agree that the question is badly phrased, particularly as Jesus at 1 Col 1:15 is described as 'firstborn of all creation'. It, and the writer's reaction to the answers, give the impression that it was asked in a form deliberately set as a trap to catch out those less theologically literate than the person who set it.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    Yes. It's a trick question. Did God create Jesus? That's not a trick question. If two thirds of Evangelicals said yes to that, that indeed would tell us something.

    I think evangelicalism is always focused on the atonement and so many evangelicals have a very limited appreciation of the historical and present significance of trinitarian doctrine.

    But they are by no means alone amongst Christians in that. Many Christians don't really do theology, take it all that seriously. Anathematisation for sloppy beliefs is hardly a common feature of church life these days.
  • It's been sloppy beliefs from the word credo.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Mark Betts wrote: »
    stetson wrote: »
    The problem IMHO is that people read the statement, think "something smells wrong with that," think again "but if I say no, does that mean I'm saying Jesus is not the greatest?" and the gears in their heads go CRUNCH and they take a wild stab at it. Most people are not that great at realizing they ought to reject the whole statement when any part of it is wrong. Even I (suspicious creature that I am) have sometimes figured that tge survey makers didn't really mean to say precisely what they asked, and have adjusted my response accordingly.

    This is probably it. And a lot of them likely don't even go through the "smell test" stage of initial suspicion. They just hear a statement that says Jesus was the greatest something or other, and all they really pick up is that the words "Jesus" and "greatest" have been conjoined, and think "Well, yeah, obviously he was."

    Granted, if it was a statement like "Jesus was the greatest pimp who ever lived", they might disagree, but "being created by God" is a hazy enough phrase to trip them up.

    Could also mean many are heretics without even realising it.

    Yes, if they actually thought consciously about God existing without Jesus, and then God creating Jesus afterwards, and then thought yeah, that sounds about right, they'd be guilty of heresy, possibly without knowing it.

    But I'd be willing to bet a lot of them didn't do that.

  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    stetson wrote: »
    Mark Betts wrote: »
    stetson wrote: »
    The problem IMHO is that people read the statement, think "something smells wrong with that," think again "but if I say no, does that mean I'm saying Jesus is not the greatest?" and the gears in their heads go CRUNCH and they take a wild stab at it. Most people are not that great at realizing they ought to reject the whole statement when any part of it is wrong. Even I (suspicious creature that I am) have sometimes figured that tge survey makers didn't really mean to say precisely what they asked, and have adjusted my response accordingly.

    This is probably it. And a lot of them likely don't even go through the "smell test" stage of initial suspicion. They just hear a statement that says Jesus was the greatest something or other, and all they really pick up is that the words "Jesus" and "greatest" have been conjoined, and think "Well, yeah, obviously he was."

    Granted, if it was a statement like "Jesus was the greatest pimp who ever lived", they might disagree, but "being created by God" is a hazy enough phrase to trip them up.

    Could also mean many are heretics without even realising it.

    Yes, if they actually thought consciously about God existing without Jesus, and then God creating Jesus afterwards, and then thought yeah, that sounds about right, they'd be guilty of heresy, possibly without knowing it.

    But I'd be willing to bet a lot of them didn't do that.

    EDIT: Just now reading Eutychus above, I guess I should have said "the Son" instead of Jesus. I guess the issue would be that a lot of people confuse the two.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    edited December 19
    Paradoxical isn't sloppy. Counter-intuitive isn't sloppy. I think the "we believe" creeds still serve the very useful purpose of bringing us up against the limitations of human understanding when contemplating God. As well as summarising corporate (rather than
    individual) beliefs. But if you think that's sloppy, Martin, I confess to being sloppy.
  • stetson wrote: »
    Just now reading Eutychus above, I guess I should have said "the Son" instead of Jesus. I guess the issue would be that a lot of people confuse the two.

    I really work hard in preaching and at other times to make this distinction. I think most members of our congregation, if quizzed, would not be heterodox, but I do get alarmed when people casually refer to "Jesus and God" in the course of extempore prayer or similar.
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